What Montessori Parents Should Know About Montessori

(taken from article by Tim Seldin, President of the Montessori Foundation)   

Montessori is everywhere
There are Montessori schools in many countries around the world. In the United States there are over 4000 Montessori schools — most are private, but some are within the public school system. Montessori schools offer a wide range of programs from birth through high school. The diversity within Montessori is tremendous. Each school reflects its own unique blend of facilities, programs, personality, and interpretation of Dr. Montessori’s vision.
What makes Montessori different?
The Montessori approach is often described as an “education for life.” In too many traditional schools, students memorize facts and concepts with little understanding. Even the bright students are often passive learners. However, Montessori schools work to create active learning environments in order to develop culturally literate children and nurture their natural spark of curiosity, creativity, and intelligence. Unlike many traditional educational settings, Montessori schools have a low regard for mindless memorization. Instead, Montessori environments seek to build a genuine understanding of concepts by laying a firm experiential foundation. To Maria Montessori, finding one’s place in the world and doing work that is meaningful and fulfilling was a more satisfying life goal than the mere pursuit of wealth and power. Montessori also believed in developing the child’s inner peace and depth of the soul. Montessori students tend to become self-confident, independent thinkers who learn because they are interested in the world and enthusiastic about life. The Montessori school gives children the sense of belonging to a family and helps them learn about how to live with other human beings. The school is the children’s community — they move with freedom and respect within the learning environment, selecting interesting work with the gentle guidance of the Montessori teacher.
Montessori schools are based on the principles of respect and independence
Success in school is directly tied to the degree to which children believe that they are capable and independent human beings. Children often say, “Help me learn to do it for myself.” In a Montessori school, children develop a meaningful degree of independence and self-discipline. This sets a pattern for a lifetime of good work habits and a sense of responsibility. Students take pride in doing things for themselves carefully and well.
Montessori teaches children to think and discover for themselves
Each child is treated as a unique and individual learner. Children learn at their own pace and in ways that work best for them as individuals. Montessori teachers are flexible and creative in addressing each student’s needs. Montessori educators keep asking the right questions to lead children to discover the answers for themselves. Learning becomes its own reward. Each success fuels a desire to learn even more. Older students are encouraged to do their own research and then analyze their results to reach their own conclusions.
Freedom of movement and independently chosen work are important
Children learn by doing, and this requires movement and spontaneous investigation. Montessori children are free to move about, working along or with others at will. They select their activity and work with it as long as they wish, as long as they do not disturb anyone or damage anything. They must also put it back where it belongs when they are finished. Especially at the early childhood level, the works are designed to draw the child’s attention to the sensory properties of objects: size, shape, color, texture, weight, smell, sound, etc. Gradually the child learns to pay attention, seeing more clearly small details in the things, beginning to observe and appreciate the environment. This is a key to help the child discover how to learn. The goal of freedom in exploration is to help the child fall in love with the process of focusing his complete attention on something and solving its riddle with enthusiasm and joy. The independence leads to empowerment on social and emotional levels, as well as confidence in his ability.
The environment is carefully prepared
Montessori classrooms are commonly referred to as prepared environments. Care and attention is given to creating a learning environment that will reinforce the children’s independence and intellectual development The room is set up to facilitate student discussion and stimulate collaborative learning. Students become involved with their work. The teacher is not the center of attention lecturing to a whole group of passive listeners. Instead, she will probably be working with one or two children at a time, advising and presenting a new lesson or quietly observing the class at work.
The Montessori curriculum
The classroom is organized into several curriculum areas, including: language arts (reading, literature, grammar, creative writing, spelling, and handwriting), mathematics and geometry, everyday living skills, sensory awareness exercises and puzzles, geography, history, science, art, music, and movement. Most rooms include a classroom library. Materials are on shelf units on open display ready for use. The course of study uses an integrated thematic approach that ties the separate disciplines of the curriculum together into studies of the physical universe, the world of nature, and the human experience. Literature, the arts, history, social issues, political science, economics, science, and the study of technology all complement one another. Montessori schools offer a rigorous and innovative academic program.
The Montessori materials; a road from the concrete to the abstract
Children learn most effectively through the process of direct experience, investigation and discovery. Asking a child to sit back and watch us perform a process or experiment is like asking a one-year old not to put everything in his mouth. Children need to learn by doing. The Montessori learning materials are tools to stimulate the child into logical thought and discovery. They are carefully designed to appeal to children at their level of development. They are displayed to provide maximum eye-appeal without clutter. The materials are arranged in sequence from the most simple to the most complex and from the most concrete to the most abstract.
Typical class size
Montessori classes will vary in size, depending on the design of the school building and the physical space. A Montessori school will attempt, if possible, to equally divide a class among boys and girls and the three age levels. There will be at least one trained Montessori teacher and one aide. Each class tends to be a fairly stable community. Montessori Toddler classes tend to have not more than 16 children. Primary classes range from about 18 to as many as 30 children aged 3 to 6 years. A larger class size can actually be a benefit because it encourages the children to learn from each other, rather than be dependent on the teacher. There is a confidence build for the older child who has mastered and helps a a younger child. Role models are assured, also, with the multi-age classroom.
The daily schedule
Days are not divided into fixed time periods for each subject. Teachers respectfully call students as they are ready for lessons individually or in small groups. A typical day may be divided into “fundamentals” (that have been assigned) along with self-initiated projects and research selected by the student. Students work to complete their assignments at their own pace. Teachers closely monitor their students’ progress. Students constantly share their interests and discoveries with each other. The youngest students will gain from observing the work of their older friends and are naturally spurred on to be able to “do what the big kids can do.”
How Montessori teachers meet the needs of so many different children
The secret of any great Montessori teacher is helping children open their minds and hearts to the process of “life-long learning.” This focus depends on a child’s natural love of learning. The Montessori teacher develops a sense of each child’s uniqueness by developing a relationship over a period of years. Sadly, in many traditional classrooms much of the day is spent on discipline and classroom management. Happily, Montessori educators play a different role, serving as facilitators, mentors, coaches, and guides. The teacher’s primary role is to prepare and maintain the physical, intellectual, social and emotional environment within which the children will work.
Montessori teachers (guides) have four principal goals:
  • to awaken the child’s curiosity, imagination, and love of learning;
  • to encourage the child’s normal desire for independence and self esteem;
  • to help the child develop the kindness, courtesy, and self-discipline that will allow him to become a full member of society; and
  • to help the child learn how to observe, question, and explore ideas independently.
The Montessori Lessons
Lessons are usually presented to fewer than a handful of children at a time. Each lesson is brief and efficient. Lessons center around the most clear and simple information necessary for the children to do the work on their own: the name of the material, its place on the shelf, the ground rules for its use, and some of the possibilities inherent within it. The goal is to give the children just enough to capture their attention and to spark their interest so they will return to the material on their own. The teachers closely monitor each student’s progress, keeping the challenge level high. Working with children over two or three years, the teacher gets to know each student’s interests, strengths, and weaknesses well.
Montessori parents sometimes worry about what will happen when they transfer their child to a traditional classroom. The ongoing impact of a Montessori program and its long-term outcomes are not always visible to parents. Nevertheless, parents can expect to be kept informed about their children’s progress and the classroom program. Montessori students do have to live within a cultural context, which involves the mastery of skills and knowledge we consider basic with high standards and expectations. Therefore, Montessori teachers keep careful records on the accomplishments of each child. Sometimes this involves some form of assessment. With the younger students, the assessment is usually quite informal. For older students, test-taking skills are important in our culture. For elementary students, standardized tests are often given. Tests are used as a feedback loop indicating when lessons need to be repeated or expanded.
While children do frequently compete with each other (and it would be unrealistic to attempt the total removal of this behavior), Montessori environments will not use competition to create an artificial motivation for student achievement. The Montessori learning focus leads to children who are not afraid of making mistakes. They quickly discover that few things in life come easily, and they can try again without fear or embarrassment.
Parent Involvement
Since learning occurs as a life-long event, the home environment continues to be a learning lab for the Montessori child. The lessons you offer daily in responsibility through allowances, trips, dialog, reading, and so on are all extensions of the classroom. The parent is expected to become involved in their child’s lifelong development. Regular contact with the teacher is vital. The family atmosphere also leads many parents to a willingness to share their time and talents to enhance the school environment and opportunities for children. Parents are welcome and important to a well-balanced Montessori school.